Friday, January 30, 2009

Cosmic Surfing

So I'm playing Star Ocean. The remake of the first one. I tried it out back when it was released in October. It seemed shallow. It seemed like I had better things to do. So I quit after 15 minutes. I didn't even save. I figured I would never try it again.

But then the PSP port of Second Story came out, and for whatever reason I decided to give it a shot. I bought the Playstation original at release 10 years ago. I did not care for it. Boy was it slow, with all the ellipses and sweat drops. But all that stuff is more tolerable on a handheld, since I can just do something else while mashing X and waiting for all that bullshit to end. Also I think they may have sped up the text scrolling a bit. Or I just hate myself and have fewer reservations about wasting my time than I did in my teen years, which is more likely. I have this problem where I go back and re-examine things after the hate has passed to see if it's any more palatable. To see if I've grown. To see if I misunderstood it in the first place. This is a big fat waste, especially with video games. It usually just rekindles the hate. But here it wasn't too bad. I was kinda having fun with the game.

But the entire time I was playing it was eating at me -- I should be playing them in order. Even though by all reports the first game is inferior. Even though I couldn't care less about the plot. So I gave in and started First Evolution again. But I did it the smart way. I started cheating.

And let me tell you there is nothing finer than cheating. This is how you make B-list J-RPGs (AKA anything not from Atlus R&D1 or Dragon Quest) tolerable. Using CWCheat I've jacked up the movement speed, turned off the crafting animations, and turned on save anywhere. I can disable random battles when I am not in the mood. I've made the game as it should have been in the first fucking place. Why didn't I think to do this earlier? I've lost too many hours of my life to good games that made bad decisions.

Not that this is a good game. I don't know if I'd praise it that much. It is OK. I promised myself I'd stop playing "just OK" games but sometimes they are interesting. It is a short game by modern RPG standards, which helps. I've been playing it for a week, I'm 12 hours in, and thanks to all my cheating to remove the tedium I am almost near the end. Even with the cheating there have been times I've thought about quitting, but I couldn't bring myself to do it because "I've already played this far and there's not that much left." Poison thinking! Gamer thinking! But it's OK. I am focused on this game. I will beat it. I will move onto something better. It is keeping my mind off bad things. Keeping me clean. Keeping me off the streets.

It's an odd game in some ways. Even though it was originally a Super Famicom RPG it has that Playstation feel. The opaqueness. The retarded secrets. The missable characters. The crafting. The hundreds of skills you just dump points into at random cuz you have no idea what you're doing. All that stuff that would drive you crazy unless you play with a FAQ, y'know? I didn't need a FAQ to understand the basics of Final Fantasy IV. That was good. But just about everything on the PSX was needlessly complicated. Even the stuff I enjoyed. Even Dragon Quest VII had all those stupid shards. You take a break from that game and there's no way you're coming back with a clue about what you were doing. You're going to need a FAQ. This didn't really improve as technology's progressed. I think I'd rather grind than FAQ.

Star Ocean's a sci-fi game. Or at least that's what I was lead to believe. It was really the main reason why I wanted to play it. I'm not big on anime, but the box art! All slick and colorful. I wanted that. But instead it's like one of those episodes of Star Trek they shot on the set of Gunsmoke or whatever. I understand why they had to do that on Trek. Budgets were tight, right? Options were limited. But nothing's stopping you in 2D. Nothing but your imaginations. So why did Tri-Ace make this sci-fi game where you spend 10 minutes on a ship and the rest of the game traipsing through a generic fantasy land? Did they license an early version of RPG Maker that only had a limited fantasy-RPG tileset available? Marketing concerns? I dunno, maybe it's the game they wanted to make, but early on there's all this Trek influence and as it progresses it becomes more and more like every other J-RPG. Now it's all collecting emblems to open the gate to slay the DemonLord and the future-town filled with the petrified bodies of the party's friends and family has been forgotten. God, I'd actually forgotten there was any spaceship and time travel business until I started writing this post.

I'm also pretty sure this was not handled by a Japanese team. It's definitely by TOSE, or some other stealth-studio. It's attractive enough, but there's something off. Something kinda Korean MMO about it all. Kinda like those PSP remakes of FF1&2. It also has plenty of bugs, like how the abilities to raise or lower the encounter rate doesn't work. And the maps are kind of a mess, often feeling like random bitmaps linked together. You know, you exit the screen to the southwest and start the next screen facing north. Totally B-team. Thankfully the dungeons are easy. Everything's easy. It's all very shallow, really. Mash X. Win. But the crafting can be neat, and the simple combat isn't too bad as long as you don't use mages, because the spell animations slow things down way too much.

Yeah. The game's OK. I'll probably beat it today, and instead of doing the sensible thing and moving onto part 2 (which is superior in all ways aside from cutscene pacing and length) I'll start playing some other third-rate RPG. "Hey, this message board poster with the loli avatar who doesn't know the difference between 'your' and 'you're' likes Ar Tornelico. Maybe I should try it..."

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